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Network Leadership

4 ways associations can generate referrals for their members

Rob Babos
May 17, 2024
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Associations typically provide a similar set of benefits to Members. Collective representation for government advocacy, group insurance, training resources and networking opportunities like annual conferences are among the more commonly listed perks. Being a Member gives your organization added reputability over non-member organizations, as Members go through an application process, at minimum, and potentially a significant vetting process, before joining an Association.  

As a provider of software solutions for both Associations and their Members across a wide range of health care disciplines, we’re seeing demand for an emerging and often overlooked membership benefit; lead generation. Service providers in the community health sector are asking their Member Associations to take a more active role in generating referrals from the public or other trusted sources. 

The public sign-up renaissance

We’re seeing exponential growth in self sign-ups from the public as a source for referrals. The COVID-19 pandemic was a catalyst for providers to offer more virtual services and online registrations. Through self-directed care, clients are taking a more active role in managing their own health and wellness. Even older adults are bridging the digital divide and acquiring a wide range of technological skills, thanks in part to great programs offering age-appropriate training. These trends have many agencies rethinking their online presence and how people access their services and how their Associations might help them. 

How Associations can help

Because of their extensive range of web content, the first place somebody looking for a community health provider might land is the website of an Association representing that particular sector of care. Here are four digital marketing ideas that can help an Association foster these initial points of contact and convert them into leads for their Members, helping their Members boost direct traffic and ultimately demonstrate ROI for the annual membership fee. 

1. Backlinking with Authority

A backlink is a link created when one website links to another. Google uses backlinking as a method of ranking, and when one website links to another, it indicates that the content is noteworthy. Not all backlinks are created equal, however, so a high-quality backlink will do more to increase a site’s ranking position and visibility in search engine results. For example, a backlink to a Member’s website from the Association’s website is considered a high-quality backlink, given that it came from a leader in the same sector with strong domain authority. Comparatively, a similar link from somebody's Facebook post would be seen as a low quality link by Google because it is not coming from a relevant website that has the same area of focus. 

Ideally, an Association should have backlinks to all of their Members' websites, and their Members should have a link back to the Association. A common strategy for achieving the latter is disseminating a Members badge with instructions to link it to the Association’s homepage.  Strong backlinking strategies between websites can do wonders for organic traffic for both the Association and its member base. Capturing outbound links is a great way to show your Members the value provided by your Association through the traffic you are sending them. 

2. Robust “Find a Member” Feature

When a visitor arrives on an Association’s website, it should be easy for them to locate and connect with a Member in a minimal amount of clicks. While this seems like a simple concept, a poorly designed "Find a Member" feature often means the difference between a strong lead generating relationship and a poor user experience. Here are some things to consider: 

  • There should be a prominent call to action for users to “Find a Member” near them, immediately visible on the homepage. 
  • Consider using an interactive search; simple directories or lists of Members are cumbersome and time consuming to search through. An alphabetized list is almost guaranteed to be the least helpful way to organize information for a user searching for a specific Member.
  • The Members search should be intuitive and easy to use; have somebody that knows nothing about your sector try to find one of your Members, and see where they may be getting stuck or frustrated.
  • Results should be relevant and accurate, only showing options that would meet this particular user’s eligibility criteria. For example, if your Members’s service has specific coverage areas, use a map-based search that collects the user’s home address, and only returns results that serve the location provided
  • If there is a range of services offered by the Members, allow for filtering so users can search for the specific service they need.
3. Enable Public Sign Up in Your Member Search

Ideally, the public should be able to transact a request from an Association's website that goes securely to the receiving member. Eliminating the extra step of leaving the Associations’ website to locate a service request on the Member’s website will greatly reduce user drop-off rates. For an Association, this is a great opportunity to show tangible value to your Members by sending referrals directly to them. Being able to report these successes will attract prospective members that are considering the perks of joining your Association.

When using a platform like Caredove to power public sign up, Members can have the option to receive referrals, or to simply have their information displayed in a Members search. A good platform will also allow Members to directly update their own service listings and company information, eliminating extra administrative work for the Association. With limited staffing, no Association wants to spend time keeping Member directory information up to date.

4. Establish a Content Strategy to Become an Authority

An Association representing a certain sector should aim to be seen as an authority on all topics related to it. A functioning backlink strategy will help, and complementing this with a strong content strategy is also important. Establishing an Association as a trusted provider of quality content, guidance and information in a particular sector can seem daunting. Content is likely already being created in the form of resources or webinars for Members, and this is a great starting point. Consider using a Topic Cluster approach, by creating clusters related to one key industry topic, developing a pillar page for that topic, and then further subpages. At the heart of a topic cluster strategy is strategic internal linking, offering multiple opportunities to keep readers on the Association site and explore related resources. Achieving status as an authority for search engine queries related to a specific sector will provide direct value to Members who have backlinks from the Association’s site. 

In Conclusion

Engaging with the Association's Member base and encouraging them to become more accessible online can be a valuable service offering in itself. Depending on the sector, Members may be small agencies with limited marketing budgets. A good way for an Association to provide guidance on marketing and lead generation is to lead by example. Do some of the heavy lifting for Members by creating a strong online marketing strategy and begin driving referrals to Members. We are certain Members will appreciate the value provided come renewal time.


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